Monday, February 8, 2010

IWLA chief unfazed by recession's challenges

A slumping economy didn't stop Joel Anderson from boosting the group's membership, finances in 2009. Now, he's looking to build on that success.

The conventional wisdom says that an economic slump is no time to try to build up a trade association's membership or launch a series of bold new initiatives. But apparently Joel D. Anderson either never got the word or chose to ignore it. Since taking the reins of the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) three years ago, Anderson has worked steadily to inject a new sense of purpose into the venerable organization. He has revitalized IWLA's government affairs program, expanded its education offerings, and—perhaps most impressive of all—implemented a membership recruitment and retention program that led to positive financial growth in 2009.

Anderson, who serves as the group's president and chief executive officer, has long experience in the association world. Prior to joining IWLA, he spent 28 years with the California Trucking Association (CTA), the last 13 as executive vice president and CEO. Before joining CTA, Anderson was an economist with the California Public Utilities Commission. He has a community college teaching credential in marketing and distribution, and has served on state and national panels on transportation, goods movement, and mobility.

Anderson spoke recently with DC Velocity Group Editorial Director Mitch Mac Donald about the challenges facing IWLA's members, the shifting regulatory winds, and what shippers might not know about 3PL services.

Q: Could you start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you came to be where you are today?
A: I graduated from UCLA in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in economics and then went to work as an economist for the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulated trucking in those days. I spent six or seven years with them, participating in rate-making and regulatory proceedings. At one of those proceedings, the head of the California Trucking Association's research department saw me in action. He offered me a job with the group, which I accepted.

I started out in the research department, and 15 years later, wound up running the whole organization. During my time there, I grew the finances and grew the membership in a trial-and-error way. I learned through the process how to run a pretty good government affairs shop and a pretty focused industry association.

I took a medical retirement in July 2005 when I had surgery for cancer. Afterwards, while I was sitting around trying to decide what to do next, I put my resume on the American Society of Association Executives' Web site, and it just so happened that IWLA was searching for a new president and CEO at that time. The search firm picked up my resume. I went through the process, got interviewed, and then received an offer to come here.

I started with IWLA in April 2006. In the first year, we grew a little bit, and in the second year, 2007, we grew substantially. 2008 was a retrenchment year—a time for realigning, refocusing, and restructuring the organization. In 2009, we began growing again, so I feel real good about the changes we made in 2008 to give us a better foundation to build on.

Q: Who are IWLA's members?
A: I would say that facility-based third-party logistics service providers are the core of our membership. They range from the company that operates a single 50,000-square-foot warehouse all the way up to industry heavyweights like UPS Supply Chain Solutions.

Over the years, our members have gotten more and more involved in value-added services, so that the warehouse is not just a static facility that is racking goods, but an operation that handles all kinds of subassembly, kitting, packing, and order fulfillment tasks. I just toured a warehouse in Indiana where I'd say at least 15 percent of the square footage was devoted to conveyor racks, assembly lines, and Internet order fulfillment—you know, something you would not have seen 15 years ago.

Q: What are the key challenges your members face today, and what is IWLA doing to help them in that regard?
A: There are several issues. One is a concern that probably wasn't on the radar screen with any frequency two years ago but in today's business climate, has become a growing problem for our members—the creditworthiness of their customers, the shippers or beneficial owners of the goods stored in the warehouse. We're seeing more problems with late payments and sometimes bankruptcies. So, we're getting more questions from members about the warehouse lien. Specifically, they want to know about the proper documentation and execution of the warehouse lien to protect their interests if, in fact, a customer goes into bankruptcy.

We're also getting more questions in these tough times on how to market: how to get your name out there, how to build your brand, how to take advantage of social media to market your services, and how to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

We've done a number of things in response to those questions. For one thing, we developed the Logistics Services Locator (LSL), a free search engine that lets customers search for an IWLA member by location, company, keyword, and so on. We put a lot of effort into that and advertise it to the shipping community.

I also have developed a relationship with a consultant who specializes in 3PL marketing, Chip Scholes. He has made himself available to our members for help developing their marketing campaigns.

Basically, we're trying to help our members understand that in order to market their services successfully, they first have to sit down and analyze who they are and what they do better than anybody else. When times were good, people forgot that because freight came their way. But now, you'd better be able to deliver a clear message about who you are, what you bring, and why people should do business with you.

Q: What else do you offer in the way of member support?
A. We also offer training and education. Our education programs focus on ways to make your company more profitable. We have seven live classes every year plus webinars—all C-level oriented.

In addition, we have really ramped up our government affairs and advocacy work. We feel that the days of deregulation are over. If the government is going to look at more aggressively or intrusively regulating the supply chain, we want to be there to try to make sure those regulations working their way through Congress and regulatory agencies won't negatively affect trade and commerce.

Q: What does the future hold for your members—both in the near term and the long term?
A: It looks like people are starting to move inventories. You know, our industry totally relies on consumer behavior. The long and short of it is, if consumers buy, our people do well. If consumers don't buy, our people don't do well because it is velocity through the warehouse where our guys and gals make the money. I mean, storage is nice, but it's their move into value-added services that has significantly increased our members' role in the supply chain, and that is influenced by consumer behavior.

To a great extent, two items affect the long-term profitability of our members. One is regulations on international trade and commerce. In other words, how free is free trade? If international trade can flow freely, then we have an opportunity to be real creative in helping our manufacturers and shippers outsource, resource, insource—you know, whatever it takes to get the right amount of the right product to the right customer on time. Number two is encouraging our consumers to buy things. Almost everything else is secondary to that because if consumers are going to buy, then freight is going to move and we are going to have an opportunity to make money.

Q: What advice would you give a young person who's interested in pursuing a career in the logistics profession?
A: I'd tell them it's all about following up and following through. Do what you say you're going to do and then let people know you did it. Reliability is probably the number one thing in success because reliability builds trust.

Q: Recognizing that a lot of our readers are customers of your members, is there anything else you'd like to share with them?
A: I think the major point I'd like to make to your readers is how inventive and creative today's 3PL is, so that if they haven't looked at that—at letting that 3PL at least examine their supply chain for ways to reduce costs and boost order fulfillment performance—they should, because the entrepreneurs in our business are incredibly creative. That is what is so thrilling about being in this business. The people doing supply chain fulfillment now are just so incredibly, incredibly creative. The way they are using technology, the way they are managing their work force. It is just fun to watch. So if they haven't tried it, I would suggest your readers put a toe in the water and give it a try. I think they will be very impressed with the results.

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